New Socialist leader warns Catalan vote will “create greater fracture lines”

Pedro Sánchez meets with regional premier to suggest alternatives to planned November referendum

Artur Mas (left) and Pedro Sánchez met on Wednesday.
Artur Mas (left) and Pedro Sánchez met on Wednesday.Albert Garcia

The leader of the Spanish Socialists on Wednesday warned Catalan premier Artur Mas that the November 9 referendum on independence is “illegal and unconstitutional,” and that it will only serve to “create even greater fracture lines” in Catalan society.

Pedro Sánchez, who became the new secretary general of the Socialist Party in late July, presented himself as an alternative to the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP), whose own stand against Catalan independence Sánchez described as “a do-nothing policy.”

In a meeting that lasted over two hours, Sánchez talked about “overcoming the trench mentality and the crossed monologues” that have characterized relations between the PP and CiU governments over the last few months.

Catalan spokesman Francesc Homs said that “Catalonia will continue on its way”

Sánchez insisted that the Socialist Party will never accept “an illegal consultation” because sovereignty resides in the entire Spanish nation, not just a portion of it.

Instead, he offered Mas, of the Catalan nationalist bloc CiU, a third way out of the Spain-or-independence dilemma: a reform of the Spanish Constitution to restructure the country into a federal system that would grant Catalonia even greater autonomy than it already has.

This scenario would “renew and improve the framework for coexistence and the ties that have kept us together for hundreds of years,” said Sánchez, who was elected in party primaries on the promise of deep change for the PSOE.

Sánchez talked about “overcoming the trench mentality and the exchange of monologues”

Spain’s main opposition party has been struggling to win back voter support since its disastrous performance at the general elections of 2011. The Catalan question has been a divisive issue, with some members of the Socialists’ Catalan branch breaking away from the official party line and supporting independence for the region.

Before Sánchez’s appointment, the Socialist Party had already talked about a federal system as a solution that might be acceptable to all parties involved, as it would grant greater autonomy but fall short of sovereignty.

Meanwhile, some cracks have started to show in the Catalan administration’s united support for the November referendum on independence. Last month, several elected officials expressed doubts as to whether the vote would take place on the scheduled date, or indeed at all.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs said that “Catalonia will continue on its way” and that the Catalan executive “will not wait around for the PP and the Socialists to reach an agreement on a political way out of this.”

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